Made Perfect in Weakness

Posted: April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

emma cheo_FotorOver the years we have learned so much from our daughter Emma. Her disability has been used by God in so many ways to teach and bless and grow us in our faith and compassion. It has also been an ongoing journey in learning how to wait on the Lord and trust in His care and provision.

For example, this past week we took Emma to CHEO for her annual cardiology appointment (pictured here in the waiting room) where we learned that she will need to have her pacemaker replaced in a few weeks. Once again forcing us to press into God more deeply through prayer and clinging to His promises in the midst of the valleys. Still, we wouldn’t change a thing because it is in and through her weakness that God has revealed his power, wisdom and grace in a very special way.

For another perspective on this, listen to some of the lessons Greg Lucas, author of Wresting With an Angel, shared on his blog

1. God is both sovereign and good.

When you are given a child with a severe disability, it is essential that you see God’s sovereign hand at work in your family. Scripture declares that your child was not an accident or a tragedy, but wonderfully and purposefully knit together from a blueprint of God’s plan that was designed before the foundation of the earth. (Psalm 139:13-17; Ephesians 1:3-12). Disability is not a curse; it is the goodness and grace of God magnified in ways that many typical families never get to experience.

2. You have been brought into this community for a purpose.

I was very slow to realized the purpose and potential of our family’s suffering and hardship until I began sharing our experiences. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 came alive during that time. Suffering brings us into the intimate presence of God where the sweetest comfort occurs. But we are not comforted to become comfortable; we are comforted to become comforters. Every single episode in our family’s experience with disability was an equipping of God’s grace to be shared with those in desperate need of His comfort.

3. Disability magnifies our vision for joy in the smallest things.

Most families living with disability will testify that some of their greatest victories have been those moments typical families often take for granted. I remember the first time our son used the bathroom in a public restroom (at the age of 17). We had just walked into Walmart and Jake took me by the hand and led me to the men’s room. He pulled his pants down and tried to pee in the toilet. He missed the toilet completely, peeing all over the seat, the floor, the wall and the stall. But he didn’t pee in his pants! We were laughing, clapping, cheering and praising God in a urine covered stall of a Walmart restroom. Most people cannot comprehend the enormous victory of that day, but disability often gives us 20/20 vision to see the things that others seem to miss. This is a wonderful gift.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
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How Long, Oh Lord?

Posted: April 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

how longWhy does God allowing suffering? This is perhaps the most challenging question we can ask. If God is all loving as well as all powerful, then why would He permit such pain and suffering in our lives? Or to put it another way, where is He when we need Him most?  This is exactly what David asked…

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13 ESV)

Along with asking why and crying out to the Lord how much longer, the other question we need to ask is simply what to do. Which is to say that if suffering is an inevitable reality in this fallen world we live in, then what are we to do in the face of it? Dr. Ed Welch offers the following wisdom, to begin with…

Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Pet. 4:12).

The Son suffered, so do those who follow the Son. You will not be spared the sufferings that the world experiences, but you will participate in them, both for the world’s benefit and your own.

Live by faith, see the unseen (Heb. 2:2).

Normal eyesight is not enough. Your eyes will tell you that God is far away and silent. The truth is that he is close—invisible—but close. He has a unique affection for fellow sufferers. So get help to build up your spiritual vision. Search Scripture. Enlist others to help, to pray, to remind you of the Truth. Ask the God of comfort to comfort you.

Suffering will reveal what is really in your heart.

It will test you (Jam. 1:2). Where do you turn when tested? Do you turn toward Jesus or turn inward?

God is God, you are not (Job 38-42).

This is important. Humility and submission before the King can quiet some of your questions.

Confess sin.

There is nothing new here; it is a regular feature of daily life. Yet it always helps you to see the cross of Jesus more clearly. It is the quickest way to see the persistent and lavish love of God (Heb. 12).

Keep an eye out in Scripture for the Suffering Servant.

He has entered into your suffering, and you can enter into his. (Isaiah 39-53, John 10-21)

Speak honestly and often to the Lord.

This is critical. Just speak, groan, have someone read you a psalm and say a weak, “Amen.”

Expect to get to know God better while in this wilderness.

That is how he usually works with his people (Phil. 3:10-11).

Talk to those who have suffered, read their books, listen to them.

You are not alone. Insist on being moved with compassion as you hear other stories of suffering.

Look ahead.

We need spiritual vision for what is happening now and for where the universe is heading. We are on a pilgrimage that ends at the temple of God (Ps. 84).

 

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Posted: March 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

happy-peopleDon’t worry, be happy?!? Really? You can’t be serious right? I mean not only does that sound like a cliche but how exactly does a person pursue happiness in the midst of the reality of pain and disappointment? How can true and lasting joy be cultivated in a world where everything around us seems to be falling apart?

Prof. David Murray recently reflected on this as he looked at Deuteronomy 33 and this verse in particular…

Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! (Deuteronomy 33:29 ESV)

To the onlooker, Moses and Israel were in the saddest and most miserable of circumstances. Yet Moses pronounces them not just happy, but the happiest people in the world! Incomparably happy. Happier than the most powerful and prosperous of nations.

What can possibly explain this?

God-centered Happiness
First, this was a God-centered happiness. It wasn’t a happiness based upon things or achievements. It was a happiness based upon truth, truth about God. Moses spent the previous three verses declaring seven facts about God and His relationship to Israel, before bursting forth with “Happy are you, O Israel!”

God-glorifying Happiness
Moses doesn’t just narrate facts about God like a dull and boring university lecturer. No, he’s exulting in God and exalting God as he speaks. He begins this final chorus of praise with, “There is no one like God.” God makes him happy, but worshipping God makes him even happier. God-centered happiness makes him glorify God happily.

God-Given Happiness
When we consider how happy Moses and Israel were with how little outward cause there was for this happiness, we must conclude that it was God-given. It wasn’t something manufactured or manipulated. It was given by God and expressed by faith. Faith saw what sight couldn’t. Faith hoped when reason couldn’t.

Given the circumstances, negativity and pessimism would have been much easier. But, by grace, God enabled Moses to rise above every discouragement and sadness (without denying them) and to find His happiness in God. Like Paul who faced similar harrowing circumstances, he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

And if Moses and Israel had such happiness, how much more should the New Testament Church and every New Testament Christian? If we claim to know much more about God (and we do), and claim to have experienced so much of His great salvation (and we have), how much happier we should be!

Like Moses, I want to die rejoicing in the happiness of God and of his people – regardless of my outward circumstances.

“Happy God! Happy Church! Happy me!”

Great words to die by. Greater words to live by.

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” – Colossians 1:11-12 (ESV)

Slowing Down

Posted: March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

busyWe live in a very hectic, fast paced, high speed culture where everything and everybody seem to constantly be on the go. Where you hear people bragging about the amount of hours they put in at work in order to be successful as we watch our families rushing from one activity to the other. And forget about being open on Sundays, thanks to the internet, we can shop 24hrs a day, seven days a week.

In Canada, studies show that one out of every four employees has mental health problems due to stress or burnout.  According to a Statistics Canada study in 2004, there were almost 3 ½ million Canadian workers suffering from burnout  and another 35% of the labour force who said that they were stressed by overly-heavy workloads or by having to work too many hours.

This of course is not just a work related issue. No, many in the church are experiencing the same type of thing… from serving on different teams and boards, teaching Sunday school, going to small group, meeting with an accountability partner, to volunteering in a charity… many Christians know all too well what burnout looks and feels like.

And so, how do we carve out time for rest. What are some practical steps we can take to help fight against the almost constant busyness. Pastor and author J.D. Greear suggests the following…

1. Sleep

Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” The sign that you are God’s “beloved” is that you are able to sleep. It is not your busyness that indicates closeness to God, but your ability to rest in the midst of a restless culture. Many times, our inability to sleep comes from the myth that we need to hold everything together.[1] We need to learn that while we are sleeping, God is building the city.

A lack of sleep doesn’t just lead to physical problems; it quickly fosters a spirit of cynicism that ruins our spiritual life. It’s no good burning the candle at both ends if it sours our view of God, deprives us of our joy, and ends our life prematurely. As a mentor of mine once told me,“Sometimes the most holy thing you can do is to just take a nap.”

2. Refuse to worry about tomorrow.

This one comes directly from Jesus: “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matt. 6:34, NIV). I used to find this verse a little odd. “Tomorrow is worrying about itself, Jesus? Well, that’s exactly what I was worried about!” But what Jesus is saying is that he’ll be with us tomorrow just like he’s with us today. The Israelites in the wilderness were only given manna for one day, to teach them that God would provide for their tomorrows. And he’s still trying to teach us the same lesson.

3. Create some margin.

You’ve heard of the “big rocks” and “sand” metaphor. Fill a jar with rocks and the sand will fill in to the cracks. Start with the sand and you’ll never be able to fit the rocks in, too. It’s a simple metaphor, but it’s still an insightful one: prioritize the “big rocks” of your life, and allow yourself margin for the “sand.”

Stress and busyness in our lives can come from doing too many things. But often they are the result of leaving no margin between the various items on our calendar. I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of rhythm and margin in maintaining our sanity. To summarize: ensure that you have time for the “big rocks” of your life, and keep the peripheral items peripheral. You need to take control of your calendar, because if you don’t, someone will take control of it for you.

4. Observe the Sabbaths.

The plural isn’t a typo; yes, I meant sabbaths. There are a number of sabbaths that God has given us: the weekly Sabbath (i.e. a day of rest and worship), the tithe, and sleep. Most of us know about the first one, but we rarely think of tithing or sleeping as Sabbath-keeping. But the principle of the Sabbath given to Israel was to intentionally cease from labor, and—paradoxically—God promised that he would multiply their efforts on the other six days.

The tithe is simply a monetary application of that principle, and sleep is a sort of mandated daily Sabbath. Each of these is like a pill to take to remind yourself that you are not God; to remind you that you do not bear the strain of providing and taking care of . . . you! God does! The more we remember that these Sabbaths are gifts and privileges, not duties, the more they will lead us to rest in Christ.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Quick to Listen

Posted: February 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

earThis just in, people are difficult to get along with! Truth be told, we all deal with issues of anger, pride, impatience, and so on. The question, how do we handle it? What do we do when faced with conflict in our lives? Fight or flight? Well, the bible tells us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21 ESV) Here is what Ed Welch, a counselor and faculty member at CCEF, has to say about this…

The common application is that when you are in a tense relationship, listen before you speak, and be sure to keep any frustrations on simmer, not high boil. This is a wise saying, but it is not James’ saying. Instead, he is imploring us to be quick to listen to the word of truth (1:18).

The word of truth is Scripture. It is communication from the Creator God who speaks and his creation obeys. It is communication from the personal God who speaks words of truth to us—from the Father, through the Son, applied by the Spirit. In short, the word of truth is Jesus.

Suddenly this passage is no longer a candidate for Poor Richard’s Almanack, which gave us “God helps those who help themselves,” and not much more about God. For James, practical theology is from above and is always our response to God himself. He speaks and we “do” his speech. We are word-of-God-doers.

So if you are disrespectful toward others with your speech, don’t start by trying to listen to the person in front of you who drives you crazy. Start with meekness before God (1:21). Your problem is not poor interpersonal skills; it is arrogance before God himself. You only listen to him when there is a happy coincidence between your desire and his words. Don’t even think about talking to another person until you have heard the word of the Lord and are silent before him. No backtalk. No grumbling or complaining. Simply rest in the certainty that he is God and you are not, and life is not about the satisfaction of your desires or the supremacy of your will. (I am trying to channel James.)

Once we listen to the word of truth and are silent before God, then—and only then—are we free to speak to those who might be difficult for us.

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 ESV)

Learning from the Past

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

FBCThis year marks the 145 anniversary of our church and although we have seen many faces come and go and have underwent various changes, one thing has remained constant: God’s faithfulness. Through the ups and downs, during the good times and the bad, the Lord has not only sustained us, but taught and grown us through it all. Which is why it is so important for us to know something of our church’s history as well as the history of the Christian faith as a whole.

Church historian Philip Schaff once asked, “How shall we labour with any effect to build up the Church, if we have no thorough knowledge of her history, or fail to apprehend it from the proper point of observation?  History is, and must ever continue to be, next to God’s Word, the richest foundation of wisdom, and sweet guide to all successful practical activity.”

This is why I am so excited to be going through A Survey of Church History by Dr. Robert Godfrey during our adult Sunday school class. As such, let me share with you Dr. David Roach’s ten reasons why you should join us…

1. Church history confirms the promises of Scripture.

For example, George Muller of England demonstrated time and again the truth of James 5:16 (“. . . The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”), as God answered his prayers and provided miraculously for the needs of the 2,000 orphans in his care. And the Church’s growth from a marginalized, persecuted Jewish sect in AD 40 to the Roman Empire’s official religion in 325 to the world’s largest religion in 2014 powerfully confirms the truth of Matthew 16:18—the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church.

2. Church history comforts believers in their struggles.

Jonathan Edwards was fired from a job. Martin Luther was plagued by fear. Elisabeth Elliot endured the death of two husbands—one at the hands of violent natives on the mission field. Yet none of their lives were ruined by these hardships. They all went on to fruitfulness. Knowing this encourages perseverance amid our own afflictions.

3. Church history broadens our choice of devotional literature.

There’s nothing wrong with reading devotional guides by popular radio preachers. But knowing a bit of history helps believers realize that there are also enriching choices from ages past, including Charles Spurgeon, the Puritans, early Church fathers, and C. S. Lewis.

4. Church history helps Christians counter heresies and cults.

Most theological errors are recapitulations from previous generations and have already been refuted by faithful Bible students. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, who deny the deity of Christ, and the so-called “Jesus only” movement, which denies the coequality of the Godhead’s three persons, can all be answered with arguments from the Trinitarian controversy of the third and fourth centuries.

5. Church history helps believers interpret the Bible.

Knowing how Christians in ages past viewed various passages can shed tremendous light on Scripture. The commentaries of John Calvin, Matthew Henry, John Gill, and others are all helpful resources in addition to today’s Bible aides.

6. Church history bolsters faith. 

Think about the vast number of people who have followed Christ over the ages and their staggering contributions to human flourishing. Christians helped spawn hospitals, orphanages, democracy, human rights, art, widespread literacy, and much more.

7. Church history provides terms to use in describing difficult doctrines.

The Trinity is “one essence and three persons.” Jesus has “two natures in one person.” The Bible is “inerrant and infallible.” Believers who don’t know a bit of church history probably won’t have these phrases in their theological tool belts.

8. Church history frees us from the illusion that modern, secular psychology is the only solution for emotional and behavioral problems.

Though psychology brings helpful insights, the Puritans, Spurgeon, and others developed keen pastoral insights long before anyone heard of Ritalin or behavioral therapy. The student of church history enjoys a wealth of counseling resources.

9. Church history contains cautionary tales to remind us that Christians can dishonor their Lord. 

The crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and the Reformers’ squelching of religious freedom all engender humility and caution for believers. Zeal is not enough to justify our words or deeds. We must take care that actions we label “Christian” truly reflect Jesus.

10. Church history provides believers with a spiritual genealogy. 

We know who our physical ancestors are. Why not learn about our spiritual forebears too?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Let’s Be Honest With Ourselves

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

life togetherThere is a natural tendency we all have of putting up walls or putting on masks. For various reasons, we are not comfortable with others knowing the truth about who we are and what we struggle with. And yet we know that scripture calls us into community. Christianity is in no way a Lone Ranger type of spirituality. Rather, in His wisdom and grace, the Lord has brought each of us into a particular church family and wants us to be honest with and about ourselves. The question is, why do so many of us deal with loneliness and isolation?

In his classic work Life Together, Dieterich Bonhoeffer puts forward the following argument…

“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.  It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.  The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.  So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.  The fact is that we are sinners! But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you.”

In the same way, while answering the question of what it is that enables us to do this, to pursue authenticity with others, Bob Thune explains…

It’s the gospel. It’s faith working through love. It’s “the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin.” Only when we’ve really come to Jesus in repentance and faith will we experience the kind of honest community we long for. Because only in Jesus is our struggle for righteousness and identity resolved.

Pause and ask yourself another question: What’s the worst thing someone could possibly know about you?

Now, what if everyone in your church community knew that thing? What would you stand to lose? What you’d probably lose is (1) their approval and (2) your sense of righteousness. They would know the real truth about you (and perhaps not approve of you). And you would have to admit the truth about yourself (you couldn’t pretend to be “righteous” anymore). In other words: walking in the light would directly confront your thirst for approval and your unwarranted self-righteousness. You avoid honesty because you’re still striving to maintain your own identity and construct your own righteousness.

Here’s another way to say the same thing: Dishonesty is rooted in unbelief. It’s a gospel issue. When I’m not resting in the identity and righteousness I have in Christ, I’ll be tempted to “save face” or keep up appearances. I’ll want to make sure people have a certain impression of me.

But the gospel frees us from this temptation! The good news of the gospel is that your identity is in Christ, not in what people think of you. And your righteousness comes from Christ, not your good behavior (or good reputation). You don’t have to keep up appearances. You don’t have to manage your image. You don’t have to save face. Jesus gives you a new identity and a righteousness you did not possess or earn on your own. They are yours by grace. You can rest in the identity and righteousness that Jesus provides. And so you can freely walk in the light with the people around you. You no longer need to sew together fig leaves; God himself has clothed you in the righteousness of his Son. “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

A community where the truth of the gospel is deeply believed, reflected on, and talked about will be a community of healthy, transformative honesty. It will be a community where people increasingly find their identity in Christ and not in the approval of others; a community where self-righteousness gives way to faith-righteousness; a community where people are loved as they really are, but loved too much to let them stay that way. It will be a community of radical grace, generous hospitality, and joyful humility. It will be a community of light, truth, goodness and beauty, where the glory of God is on display to the world.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)

The Joy of Marriage

Posted: January 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

MarriageScripture tells us that one of the results of sin is that it separates us from God as well as from each another. And so the goal of putting it to death isn’t just about pursuing holiness but more so reconciliation. As Peter explains, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). Again, this is the goal of the cross, this is the purpose of sanctification, to restore broken relationships. We should be careful then not to miss this, especially when it comes to our marriages. Holiness is not the primary goal but instead a deeper more joy filled relationship.

Recently Anthony Ashley, a writer for Boundless, shared the following reflection on a popular marriage book by Gary Thomas…

Sacred Marriage tells us that marriage is hard work, that our holiness is God’s priority over our happiness, that God uses marriage to help us die to self, and that dying hurts. Let me tell you: All of this is true. Marriage is crazy difficult sometimes, and the “old man” doesn’t die easily. Laying down my life to serve my wife and love her like Christ loved the church isn’t easy and is impossible apart from Jesus’ grace. The tasks of dying to self, learning long-suffering, and being sanctified are essential, and they are accomplished in marriage if we submit to God’s discipline. So what’s my problem? My problem is that many people who read Sacred Marriage still have an incomplete picture of what marriage is and what it’s for.

Everything Thomas says in his book basically sounds true, but why do I feel so ambivalent about it? The answer came to me a few years later when someone sent me a collection of quotes about marriage, and I read this one by Ted Cunningham:

“The creation order establishes the priority of marriage as companionship, not sanctification. God wants you to enjoy your marriage.”

When I read this, my jaw dropped, and I stared at my computer screen for a long time. That was it! God invented marriage before the Fall! If marriage existed in the Garden of Eden long before sin entered the world, then why are we saying that the primary role of marriage is to help us die to our sinful nature? What was marriage for before we had a sinful nature? The answer, my friends, is relationship. Genesis 1:18-24 tells us what the original reason for marriage was: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'”

Believe that, before everything else, God wants you to enjoy relationship in your marriage. And what could be more godlike? If holiness is being more like God, then relationship comes first. Long before sin entered the world God existed as a beautiful, holy Trinity. Relationship is essential to who God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Sacred Marriage leaves a lot of us thinking that there is nothing more to holiness than suffering and being purged of sinfulness. Marriage does these things no doubt, but marriage also relieves us of loneliness and gives us a helper with whom to walk life’s journey. This is part of holiness, and this is good. The sinfulness of sin is that it robs us of right relationship with each other and with God. And dying to sin is not something we do for its own sake, but because there is something better for us on the other side of that death.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

 

Stories That Feed Us

Posted: January 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

balrogLife is hard. There is no denying that we live in a fallen world filled with darkness and strife. The question becomes, when and how much of this reality do we allow our children to experience in the stories they read and the movies they watch. As parents our natural tendency is to protect and shelter. And yet wisdom dictates that somehow we need to prepare and equip them for what is to come.

That said, in a recent Christianity Today article, author N.D. Wilson provides some helpful insight…

Think on this: God’s artistic choices should govern our own. More than any other type of artist, Christian artists should be truth-lovers and truth-tellers. More than any other consumer, Christian readers— and parents of young readers—should be truth-seekers.

I would understand if hard-bitten secularists were the ones feeding narrative meringue to their children with false enthusiasm. They believe their kids will eventually grow up and realize how terrible, grinding, and meaningless reality really is. Oh, well—might as well swaddle children in Santa Clausian delusions while they’re still dumb enough to believe them. But a Christian parent should always be looking to serve up truth. The question is one of dosage.

Shelter your children. Yes. Absolutely. But use a picnic shelter, not a lightless bomb bunker, and not virtual reality goggles looping bubblegum clouds. Feast with them on fiction in safety, laugh with them through terrible adventures seething with real weather. They should feel the wind and fear the lightning and witness the fools and heroes—and yet stay protected.

Faithful artists should provide sabbaths, not escapes. We should be crafting periods of rest and inspiration that will feed, fuel, and empower readers to engage more deeply in reality as faithful men and women. To step out of the shelter when the time comes.

In your picnic shelter, pack stories that bless the meek and shatter the proud. Stories that use hardship to burn away the dross in characters. Stories that honor the honorable and damn the damnable.

Childhood is the time for truth, and adulthood is the time for a deeper understanding of the same. To seed courage, we must show fear. To reveal triumph, we must build enemies. To tell the truth about what it means to be heroic, we must spin a fiction full of danger.

Wisdom from G. K. Chesterton: “If the characters are not wicked, the book is.” We must tell stories the way God does, stories in which a sister must float her little brother on a river with nothing but a basket between him and the crocodiles. Stories in which a king is a coward, and a shepherd boy steps forward to face the giant. Stories with fiery serpents and leviathans and sermons in whirlwinds. Stories in which murderers are blinded on donkeys and become heroes. Stories with dens of lions and fiery furnaces and lone prophets laughing at kings and priests and demons. Stories with heads on platters. Stories with courage and crosses and redemption. Stories with resurrections.

And resurrections require deaths.

We do no one any favors when we pretend away darkness in the world. We’ve only neutered the need for grace. And we’ve neutered the glorious triumph on the other side of darkness. Yes, darkness should be mediated and even muted in art for children (and adults). At some point, the knowledge of evil can damage a reader or viewer.

But the relationship between good and evil in our stories should mirror the relationship between good and evil in God’s stories. That relationship should present one consistent worldview in art meant for 8-year-olds and in art meant for 80-year-olds. Our goal is to produce and consume truth, to feed, to be strengthened, and to rise up from our narrative sabbaths ready to live harder lives, ready to love and laugh more deeply. We emerge from such stories ready to step into the roar of glory that leads us all to our own graves and out the other side.

Our stories should feed us, young and old, for that journey.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:8-11 (ESV)

 

Tis the Season

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

SadXmas

Even though Christmas is normally a happy time of year filled with celebration and joy, the winter season brings with it shorter days as well as longer, colder nights. Which, for those struggling with depression, can often compound the situation and lead to what is known as seasonal affect disorder.

This is why it is important for us to remember that along with songs of joy and praise, scripture is also filled with expressions of doubt and despair. For example, a large portion of the book of Psalm, which are known as psalms of lament, express themes of pain and suffering. In fact, these types of psalms are so common that some have estimated that they make up over a third of the book of psalms.

All that to say, depression is a lot more common than we think and learning to deal with it and/or help those who do, involves a great deal of wisdom and compassion. Here then are some thoughts from Sammy Rhodes, RUF campus minister at the University of South Carolina, on how to love a depressed person…

1. Keep the pin in the shame grenade.

Depressed people feel tremendous amounts of shame. The voice they hear most often in their head is like the anti-Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting: “It’s your fault. It’s your fault. It’s your fault.” The problem is not that they don’t know what they should do. The problem is finding the strength to do it. They’re carrying a heavy load. Don’t be the kind of friend who adds to it. Be the kind of friend who helps lighten it. Don’t patronize, empathize. In the words of Brene Brown, “Shame cannot survive empathy.”

2. Don’t be simplistic.

Depression is like a bruise. Sometimes you know how it got there, and sometimes you genuinely don’t. What makes it hard is that it’s “like a bruise in your mind” (Jeffrey Eugenides, Marriage Plot). Nothing is worse than treating it simplistically. It’s not always as simple as “Take medicine,” or “Go see a counselor,” or “Repent” (usually all three will be part of the healing process). To make one of those the “end all be all” is extremely unhelpful. Help them simplify things, yes. But don’t be simplistic.

3. Take the physical as seriously as the spiritual.

Don’t give a depressed friend a book. Give them a steak instead. Preferably an expensive one. And pair it with a loaded baked potato, a bottle of merlot, and if you want to get really spiritual, a whole pan of Sister Schubert rolls. That’s what God did for Elijah when he was depressed to the point of wanting life to be over. He didn’t give him a lecture, or even a devotional. He gave him a meal and then let him sleep (1 Kings 19:4-7). He didn’t Jesus juke him. He took the physical as seriously as the spiritual. Because sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap (or a walk, or a meal).

4. Embrace awkward silence.

If depressed people could take a book title for a life motto it would be More Baths, Less Talking (Nick Hornby). If they’re really depressed, the last thing they want to do is talk about why they’re really depressed. Don’t take this as a sign that they don’t want you around. They desperately do. They just want you to embrace the awkward silence with them. It shows them that sometimes it’s ok to sit in silence because life is hard and we don’t have all the answers.

5. Help them take themselves less seriously.

One of the best things you can do for a depressed person is to help them take themselves less seriously. Sometimes when Martin Luther would get depressed to the point of spending entire days in bed, his wife Katharine would dress herself in all black and put on a veil. And when he asked her whose funeral she was going to she would say, “God’s, because the way you’re acting so hopeless he must be dead.” She had a great sense of humor. Humor is actually a vital part of dealing with depression, because if you listen closely enough to laughter you can hear the echoes of hope. Which is why an incredibly wise pastor once told a struggling friend the most important thing he could do for his depression was to watch an episode of Seinfeld with friends every night before bed. “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly” (GK Chesterton).

6. Give them grace by giving them space.

Depressed people need the space to be alone, yet the security that you’re not going anywhere. Don’t get all up in their grill. Be content to hang out on their back porch while they’re inside on the couch watching their seventh episode of New Girl in a row. They need the space of you leaving them alone, with the grace of knowing you’ll never leave them. It’s the Lord saying he won’t “break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax” (Isaiah 42:3) Even though our depression is hard, he’ll be gentle. Even though our depression may never go away, he promises he’s not going anywhere.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)